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Lack of sufficient services in Gaza could get worse without urgent action, UN warns

Maxwell Gaylard, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, and other UN officials at press conference launching new report.
UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan
Maxwell Gaylard, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, and other UN officials at press conference launching new report.

Lack of sufficient services in Gaza could get worse without urgent action, UN warns

Gaza’s problems in water and electricity, education and health will only get worse over the coming years unless remedial action is taken now, a senior United Nations official warned today.

“Gaza will have half a million more people by 2020 while its economy will grow only slowly. In consequence, the people of Gaza will have an even harder time getting enough drinking water and electricity, or sending their children to school,” said the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory, Maxwell Gaylard.

Mr. Gaylard’s comments came as he, together with Jean Gough of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Robert Turner of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), launched a new UN report that summarizes trends in Gaza and forecasts for the year 2020.

According to the report, Gaza’s population will increase from 1.6 million people today to 2.1 million people in 2020, resulting in a density of more than 5,800 people per square kilometre.

“The substantial population growth rate will thus add some 500,000 people to a living area which is restricted and already heavily urbanized. Fundamental infrastructure in electricity, water and sanitation, municipal and social services, is struggling to keep pace with the needs of the growing population,” it states.

“By 2020, electricity provision will need to double to meet demand, damage to the coastal aquifer will be irreversible without immediate remedial action, and hundreds of new schools and expanded health services will be needed for an overwhelmingly young population,” the report adds. “Tens of thousands of housing units are needed today.”

In addition, Gaza’s economy is expected to grow modestly and people will likely still be worse off in 2015 compared to the mid-1990s, despite fast economic growth last year.

“The challenges will only become more acute, particularly if the current political status quo continues. Even if the political situation were to improve dramatically over the next years, the issues identified in this study would still need to be addressed as a matter of urgency,” the report notes.

Today, Gaza is an essentially urban economy, isolated and kept alive through external funding, the illegal tunnel economy, and the ingenuity and persistence of its people.

“An urban area cannot survive without being connected,” said Mr. Gaylard, who added that a return to economic progress and prosperity could only materialise through trade, communication and contact with the world beyond Gaza.

Gaza remains subject to severe restrictions on imports, exports and the movement of people, by land, air and sea, as a result of the blockade Israel imposed on the area for what it called security reasons after the Hamas group, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.

“The viability of a future Palestinian state depends on a proper connection between the West Bank and Gaza, providing access to the Mediterranean for the entire occupied Palestinian territory,” the report states.

In a related development, some half a million Palestinian children will benefit from a $21.6 million donation by the Government of the Netherlands to UNRWA. The funds will support the agency’s education and health programmes, as well as its regular relief, infrastructure and camp improvement initiatives.

Of the $21.6 million, $5.7 will be allocated to UNRWA’s 2012 Emergency Appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory, which will support programmes in the West Bank and Gaza aiming to mitigate the effects on refugees of the deteriorating situation they face.

“We are grateful for these contributions to both our core programming and our 2012 Emergency Appeal,” said UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi. “At a time of great economic difficulty for our donors, the strong Dutch support for both human development and humanitarian programming is especially appreciated and will go a long way to helping UNRWA deliver its important developmental programmes as well as humanitarian aid to those in the greatest of need.”